Dare We Hope?

My sermon to the UUFB today:

There are a lot of words we use every day,
that we don’t really pause to consider.
“Hope” is one of those words.

What do you think of when you hear the word “Hope”?

For most of us, “hope” will conjure up images of fantastical satisfaction and happiness- or maybe the iconic images of a certain presidential campaign.

Maybe almost trite images.

And yet, there’s an allure to the word “Hope”

In that presidential campaign, the opponents made fun of the word, made light of it- and I would submit- that may be why they lost.
They underestimate the human gift of optimism.
And I do think it’s a gift.

It’s very easy to look around and see the evidence of malignancy and evil around us- and far away from us- thanks to the miracle of instantaneous global communication. It’s not hard to find stories of death and destruction, exploitation and pain, suffering and greed, disease and addiction.

It’s not hard at all.
In fact, it’s so easy that our society suffers from all sorts of ills because of it- depression being ubiquitous in this day and age.

I think hope and optimism have a bad rap. It’s easy to make fun of the word “hope”. Realists say that it’s fantasy.

I think it’s completely and perfectly human.

Take Winter. It’s no accident that the early Christians of the Northern Hemisphere chose the solstice for the celebration of the Savior’s birth.

The Advent wreath, the greenery, the Christmas tree- none of them originated with Christianity. Some maintain that Germanic tribes placed candles in a sacred circle of greens to symbolize hope in the return of the sun and the promise of Spring. We know Scandinavian people placed candles on a wheel to honor the cycle of the seasons. We know that midwinter- again in the Northern Hemisphere- is around December 21- when days are at their shortest and night is at its longest.

I can imagine that for primitive people whose lives depended on the return of warmth it was good to remind themselves that winter won’t last forever. And I can imagine that it was very hard centuries ago- without antibiotics and polar fleece and refrigerators and Costco- in a harsh climate when those who were weak would often die- I can imagine that some would find it hard to believe that the winter would ever end- especially during the time that night became longer and longer and colder and colder.

But those who knew- those who had lived through the winters before- they were the strength of those who weren’t so sure.
They held out hope.

They knew that in the midst of the longest night- it was important to tell stories of the approaching spring. To hold out hope- to remember optimism when it was at its most elusive.

As always, our lives our shaped by those who have gone before us.

Hope is in our genes- if we care to think about it.

The basic instinct of survival is a mechanism of hope, isn’t it?

Even the limbic system that shuts down our reason in the face of danger and makes us flee, fight or freeze to enable our survival- even that is a sign of hope. It’s in our biology.

That’s probably why the pessimists never win in the long term. Hope isn’t just a trite term for people who can’t handle reality. It’s an attitude for living.

I like to tell my clients that the only difference between excitement and fear is the projected outcome.

The energy is the same- it’s just the projected outcome that’s different. And that projected outcome starts with us.

In our minds, in our hearts, in the way we choose to interpret the world around us. Excitement and curiosity- or fear and dread? It’s our choice- at least more than we think.

One of my favorite stories is this one:

Two boys who were twins, one an incurable optimist, one a pessimist.
The parents were worried about the extremes of behavior and attitude and finally took the boys in to see a psychologist.

The psychologist observed them a while and then said that they could be easily helped. He felt they just needed to adjust to the world by encountering things that would counteract their strong tendencies of optimism and pessimism.

He said that they had a room filled with all the toys a boy could want. They would put the pessimist in that room and allow him to enjoy life.

They also had another room that they filled with horse manure. They put the optimist in that room. They observed both boys through one way mirrors.

The pessimist continued to be a pessimist, stating that he had no one to play with.

They went to look in on the optimist, and were astounded to find him digging through the manure.

The psychologist ran into the room and asked “What on earth are you doing?”

The boy replied “With all this manure, there HAS to be a pony in here somewhere!”

I love that story.

But I know that sometimes i’m not looking though the manure for the pony. Sometimes I’m just sitting in the manure, disgusted. Because, well, you know, it’s manure.

That’s when I forget myself. It’s when I forget my biology.

It’s when I forget that the energy I feel in my body is often harnessed by the projected outcome I hold.

So, yeah, I can sit in the manure, or I can haul the manure back to the garden where it’ll do some good.

My choice.

Our ancestors have chosen to celebrate the return of the light for millennia- it’s why the early Christians chose the bleak midwinter- to link the returning light to the birth of Jesus. Smart, eh?

They’ve chosen to believe that the dawn follows the darkness, that life will continue.

And so do we.

I’m betting that it’s why you’re here today.

And I’m also betting that you’re interested in learning to become skillful at living life with hope.

I believe that the first step in living a more skillful life
is to become more aware of living an UNskilled life.
And by that, I mean living by habit-
not with awareness, not with wonder, not with hope-
but by automatic pilot- habit. By numbing perhaps- or lying to ourselves.

It’s ultimately unsatisfying.
Habits are things we do without thinking. That’s very unskillful.

Skill means bringing awareness and creativity, attention and intention into our endeavors.

I think it’s only by paying close attention that we live skillfully in this world.
And by paying attention to the possibilities is the way we live hopefully in this world.

During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback.

They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour.

The swollen river had washed the bridge away.

Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents.

The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch.

After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river.

The president agreed without hesitation.

The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side.

As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, “Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?”

The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him.

“All I know,” he said, “Is that as I thought of asking the question, on some of your faces was written the answer ‘No,’ and on some of them was the answer ‘Yes.’

His was a ‘Yes’ face.”
(C. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, Word, 1990, p. 6.)

That, my friends, is the face of hope.

So, dare we hope?

If biology and the human spiritual history of millennia have anything to say about it, we dare not.

Christmas Sermon, 2013

“I love you.”

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words were tentative, soft and nervous. They were spoken by a third grader- me.
It was the first time I had ever said them to anyone outside my immediate family.

It was a watershed moment for me.

You see, there was this girl who was amazing. She liked all the things I liked, hated all the things I hated, she was smart and pretty and best of all she liked me. She thought I was funny- and cute.

I was.

But I didn’t know what to do about it- I was eight.

I knew that people you liked were kind of like being part of your family. I felt like I wanted to let her know I thought she was awesome- but then I panicked. We were sitting together on the swings after lunch and I just felt the words rising up inside of me.

The words were out of my mouth before I knew what to do.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “What have I done?”

And then- “What if she doesn’t say it back?”

Have you been there?

Lots of rules about relationships.

Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow.

Don’t be insulting. Don’t be demanding.

Don’t say I love you first….

Hmmm.

So. Christmas! I love Christmas. I love the music.

“Joy to The World! ….

“Silent Night….

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing….

“O Little Town of Bethlehem…..

“Angels we have heard on high…..

“O Holy Night…..

“Come, they told me….”

Words and sounds so familiar in this season. I bet as I was saying the words, some of you started singing the tunes.

What’s your favorite Christmas Carol? I have two- My favorite is “O Holy Night”. Mostly because it’s so filled with awe.

“Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….
O Night- divine- O-o night when Christ was born”.

Gorgeous.

It’s a poignant reminder that wonder and awe need to be a daily part of life.

Christmas is a time for Joy.

It’s why I also love “Joy to the World”.
“Let every heart prepare him room…”

Joy is kind of tricky. I tried to explain it to a kid last week who asked, “What’s the difference between being happy and being joyful?”

Like I said- tricky.

I was kind of proud of my answer.

“Well, it’s a lot like like happiness- only better.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I think happiness is about being satisfied,” I said. “Joy is about being loved.”

Yeah. Still proud of my answer.

Today’s Christmas. Tomorrow it will all be over. And millions of dollars will have been spent and tons of food will be eaten and people will still be dying of hunger and disease and only have filthy water to drink.

Except that it’s not over. We forget- Christmas is a season. It actually goes for twelve days- it doesn’t end until January 6th. That’s because the church recognizes that it’s not just a day- it’s a season- and sometimes it takes a whole season to get it right.

So we have presents and food and trees and lights- but that’s not what it’s really about. Not really.

It’s about a story. A story that still is being written.

St Theodore had some very important words to add to this story- you probably remember him-

You don’t remember St Theodore?  St Theodore Geisel?
The world knows him as Dr Seuss. Remember this?:

He stared down at Who-ville!

The Grinch popped his eyes.

Then he shook!

What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

HE HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

IT CAME!

Somehow or other it came just the same!

And the Grinch with Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?

“It came without ribbons it came without tags!

“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore-

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?

Well, In Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light.

And he brought back the toys and the food for the feast.

And he- HE HIMSELF…!

The Grinch carved the roast beast.

If those aren’t the words and insight of a saint, I don’t know what is….

Today we are here to celebrate.

We’re celebrating something very special. So with apologies to St Theodore:

We’re not celebrating happiness- although happiness is okay- we’re here

-here as Christians to celebrate JOY.

Joy comes when “I love you” is said and it’s felt,

It comes from the feeling your heart will just melt.

Today is the day that we gather to see

Just how much our God loves us-

Loves you and loves me!

He said it in Bethlehem with a babe in a stall,

He said it real clearly “I love-

love you all!”

But the real trick of Christmas- the thing that we lack

Is the courage all year just to whisper it back.

Sometimes we’re shy and sometimes we’re scared

But the love of this God is just meant to be shared!

He’s saying “I love you” with the birth of this baby

And Jesus still tells us- and he doesn’t say “Maybe.”

It’s true and it’s real- we just have to answer.

It’s not time to dawdle- it’s time to move faster!

Remember that third grade kid at the beginning of this? Me?

Well, she said it back to me. And even though things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped back in the third grade, we’re still in touch. And I still love her..

In fact, she told me she loved me just last week.

And all I can say is it still brings me joy.

Today, we celebrate God saying “I love you.” And it’s meant with deadly seriousness- and complete joy and selflessness. No games.

Today God says “I love you.” And means it.

Always means it.

Even when we don’t say it back.

Letting Harmony Find You

Harmony California

Harmony California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

From my sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Billings yesterday:

 

I love the word “harmony”.

 

Besides being just a musical term, it also describes being in balance.

 

Sometimes it takes some time to find that balance- I’d like to tell you a little bit about the time it’s taken me….

 

I was born in Butte and raised in Twin Bridges. My Dad was a rancher, my mom stayed home with me and my brother and sister. From an early age, I knew I was different. I really couldn’t have put my finger on it when I was young, but I seemed to be more sensitive than other boys my age, more compassionate about things that could hurt.

 

In fact, I actively avoided rough games and play. I liked to read- and I read constantly- often about far away places, places that I might be able to go to when I was older- where people might understand me.

 

It’s hard to find harmony when your insides are saying one thing- and the world is telling  you its opposite. But I did find it sometimes.

 

When I was alone- in my room or in the woods.

 

When I was reading a great book.

 

When I was in the quiet of my church.

 

In fact, church was probably my salvation. I grew up Catholic, and I loved all of the rituals and music of our little church. I loved that the priest took an interest in me, didn’t think I was weird, encouraged me in reading and study and conversation. I felt the harmony.

 

But then, around twelve or thirteen, something happened.

 

I realized that the difference I felt wasn’t just about the way I saw and felt the world, it was about how I felt and saw other people.

 

I learned that other boys my age wanted to chse girls and that other girls my age wanted to chase boys- not that they’d know what to do when they caught them- but that wasn’t what I wanted.

 

It was confusing. I had crushes on older boys. Felt myself looking at my classmates in the shower during gym. And it terrified me, because I knew it was bad. I knew that I was one of those people that were really monsters, freaks. Teachers said so- kids said so- the church said so. “Queer” was evil. We played smear the queer at recess. It never went well for the “Queer”. The word “Fag” was a term of derision worse than “Nazi”, or “Communist”.

 

And that’s what I knew I was.

 

A Queer. A Faggot. And it was bad.

 

That’s when I lost the harmony.

 

It was important for my survival 35 years ago- as it sadly still is for kids today- that I not be detected. That I not be singled out. I had to hide.

 

So I did. I no longer trusted the goodness of my nature. My desires were to be obliterated out of necessity. It wasn’t safe.

 

I pretty much hid my sexuality in high school and college- with brief moments of harmony when I found others like me, but mostly, I was just working hard to keep myself from being fully seen. And that culminated in my becoming a priest.

 

And not just any priest. I went to seminary in Rome. I knew people in the Vatican. I found other gay men who were following the same path I was and we supported each other.

 

Over the years, I’ve noticed that of all the people in seminary with me, the ones that later got into some kind of trouble were the ones who were in denial about their sexuality- the ones without any support.

 

Harmony actually found me again for a while.

 

I loved the work, I loved the people. But it got tiring.

 

I got tired of not being seen for the real me. I got depressed because the official church position on my particular sexuality was that we were all “fundamentally disordered”. It’s hard to believe in an institution that discards as irrelevant your particular, strong and direct experience. It’s hard to maintain day after day the lie.

 

I tried everything.

 

I worked harder. I got a dog. I bought a truck. Nothing helped. Finally, I got counseling.

 

What took me so long?

 

Denial can be a very high and thick wall- especially if you lay each brick in desperation, in fear for your very life. I had denied my experience.  I was hiding from harmony- only I didn’t know it at the time.

 

What brought me out was something ordinary.

 

I fell in love. Hard.

 

I heard the notes of harmony again. Sometimes- when I just let myself be loved by this man- it was more like a symphony.

 

I came to realize that my experience hadn’t conflicted with my faith at all- it just conflicted with the interpretation of that faith by others. In one sense, LGBT people aren’t asked by their churches to inform the faith- they’re asked to stand outside and accept the information given by others- some of whom are hiding behind their own self-built walls of shame and denial.

 

I also realized that I hadn’t allowed myself the common dignity of reflecting honestly on my life before making promises to a church that would never accept me as the man I really was.

 

Ironically, I had preached “the truth will set you free” a million times- but it never sank in until I was freed to be myself. To have compassion for myself. To create a space of understanding in myself.

 

As a therapist, I know the biggest breakthroughs often come from uncovering the lies that we tell ourselves. “What’s the lie?

 

But it has to be done with compassion.

 

I spent years dealing with the fallout of my denial. That initial relationship didn’t last. I spent time doing drugs, having meaningless sex, until I had  spiritual breakthrough just weeks before I was diagnosed with HIV.

 

I’m not sure if we have the time for me to into it here, but here’s what I walked away with: “Nothing can go wrong” (You can read about it here)

 

Nothing.

 

In my best moments, I believe this.

 

In my worst moments, I forget this and struggle to make the world make sense by bending it to my will.

 

The complete opposite of what I should be doing.

 

You see, there’s nothing more important than the recognition of reality. Loving what is- not what should or could be- loving what is. Right here, right now.

 

It doesn’t mean we have to stay in it forever, we just have to let the total reality of the present moment sink in if we want to have fulfilling and satisfying lives.

 

And yes- sometimes pain is a part of the present reality.

 

But it’s always temporary.

 

Notice I said “pain”, not “suffering”. Suffering is almost always optional.

 

Here’s my definition of suffering: “Suffering. Noun. Remembering past pain in a way that traumatizes; imagining future pain in a way that traumatizes; creating stories about pain that doesn’t exist- either from the past or future. Creating or re-creating unnecessary pain.”

 

What do you think of that?

 

I’ve come to understand that it’s not about making things happen, it’s about allowing things to happen- and finding my place in them.

 

It’s not about bending the world to my will, its about truly looking at the world and knowing that I have a place in it- even if it’s not immediately evident.

 

It’s about feeling loved. By everything. There’s music there….

 

How do you do that?

 

Practice. And by listening for it.

 

How do musicians get the feel of harmonizing? Practice. And by realizing they won’t get it right every time. By not needing it to be perfect. You have to stop and listen.

 

Because nothing can go wrong.

 

Today, I have a man that loves me more than anything else in the world. I believe that. And I love him the same way. We have a house and dogs and a very satisfying life together. I work with LGBT people, helping them to be happy. I work with HIV+ people, helping them to be happy and healthy. I’m doing things that satisfy me.

 

Some have said “You’ve overcome so much to get where you are today- how did you do it?”

 

“Yeah, overcoming your own sense of self-importance and shame and denial is a bitch- but we all have to do it eventually. On earth or in heaven, I guess.”

 

It’s not the circumstances- it’s how you see them.

 

I believe prayer is trying to see with God’s eyes, not vice-versa. That’s the only way it makes sense. Why would I pray for anything but to see the truth?

 

Well, maybe to hear the music…. 🙂

 

We all know the tune- and I believe that we all have the power to discover the harmony. I believe that sooner or later, the harmony will find us- especially if we slow down, quiet ourselves and wait for it.

 

And that music is so beautiful and rich.

 

May harmony find you.

 

Amen.

 

Sermon 4.07.13

The outline of my sermon yesterday from Living Waters United Methodist Church, Belgrade. Scripture: Acts 5.27-32

Most of us want to be liked.

That in and of itself isn’t anything new- it’s a fairly universal trait.

Most of us also want to stay out of trouble.

Again, simply human.

But when being liked and staying out of trouble aren’t an option when standing up for the truth… Well, that can be a real problem can’t it?

Let’s listen again to the scripture for today.

When the temple police had brought Peter and the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this Name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this Man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

 That’s what we heard today. What we didn’t hear is the passage that came after that.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

A Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel spoke on their behalf, reminding the council of others who had come and gone before them, all claiming to have been sent by God-all of whom had failed.

And then Gamaliel gave the council this advice:

“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail butt if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’

They were convinced by him. Then when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

They left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.  And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Talk about getting into trouble.

Talk about not being liked.

But what did these disciples do?

They did something all heroes do- they trusted their hearts. They followed their conscience. These men and women preached the Gospel of a God who is in love with us.

And most of them died for it.

Often very cruel deaths.

Just to do the right thing. To proclaim love.

Today I want to ask a very simple question:

“When should we choose love?”

Seems simple doesn’t it?

And yet, we make decisions every day that are not loving.

We can exclude people, we can hoard things, we can lock our doors and load our guns in fear, we can drink too much, we can eat too much, we can lie to ourselves, we can lie to others- sometimes simply to stay out of trouble or to be liked by the right people.

Well, the Jesus who died on the cross, rose from the dead and sent his disciples into the world to proclaim a crazy, loving God doesn’t want us to let the world get in the way of love.

That’s what these disciples knew. That’s why they stood in fear of their lives in front of the courts, why they suffered scourging- just like Jesus- why they refused to deny love.

Because they saw love, risen from the dead.

And so have we.

You know it, in your hearts, you see it every day. Love risen from the dead. You can even create it if you like.

You’ve seen a child’s face- crushed by disappointment- restored to life by a word of encouragement and love.

All you have to do is restore someone’s hope.

All you have to do is not deny anyone their dignity.

All you have to do is trust that we are more than our fears.

All you have to do is open your heart- and your mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet will follow.

Just open your heart.

Let us ask our God to give us eyes to see the opportunities to build the Kingdom of God- right here, right now.

And when you feel that feeling rising up in you, the one that says, “I want to be liked, I want to stay out of trouble”, the one that wants to close your heart down, will you know what to do?

I think we do.

We stop and recognize the choice in front of us: To be open or closed; to be loving or cruel.

So, when do we choose love?

Every time we can.

Being Water

The text of my sermon from The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bozeman yesterday:

Being Water: Flexibility, Change and Following our True Nature

River

River (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. 

Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. 
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. 
The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. 
On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. 

Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 

I am haunted by waters.”

~Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It.

Those words by Norman McLean are famous all around the world. Mostly because they are words that resonate with everyone- on a primal level.

I too, am haunted by water.

Water- perhaps like every other spirit- looms wide in our world- open to the eyes that wish to see it. Or to the mind that wishes to know.

Water holds the vital components of life- we cannot go long without it. But too much and we die.

It is a tremendous force of creation AND destruction, a source of delight and dread.

How many people here do not know how to swim? How many would be thrilled to be adrift on a boat in the middle of the ocean? How many terrified? (Life of Pi)

And yet, do you know the delight of a cold glass of water on a hot day, or a warm bath after a long day of hard labor- or a hot tub after skiing?

Have you considered the water involved in your day- so far?

How much water have you used today?

Is it possible to even calculate?

Water is everywhere. It exists in a variety of states of purity. It is one of a very few elements that transition easily from solid to liquid to gas. It defines places and things on our planet by it’s presence: ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, oceans, glaciers, icebergs, clouds. It defines places on our planet by it’s absence: deserts, salt flats, stalagmites, etc.

Baking doesn’t work without adding and removing water. Neither does fermentation and distillation. And do you have any idea how many gallons of water it takes to make one automobile?

It is an amazing substance, plentiful, misused, often taken for granted, but remarkably resilient- and I believe it can be our teacher.

First, Some Statistics

  • 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people.
  • Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from a water-related disease.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.
  • Over 2 1/2X the United States population do not have access to clean water.
  • More people in the world have a mobile phone than access to a toilet.
  • There is more fresh water in the atmosphere than in all of the rivers on the planet combined- but, If all of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere fell at once, distributed evenly, it would only cover the earth with about an inch of water.
  • It takes more water to manufacture a new car (39,090 gallons) than to fill an above ground swimming pool.
  • It takes more than ten gallons of water to produce one slice of bread.
  • Over 713 gallons of water go into the production of one cotton T-shirt.
  • 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk.
  • Roughly 634 gallons of water go into the production of one hamburger
  • The average faucet flows at a rate of 2 gallons per minute.  You can save up to 4 gallons of water every morning by turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth.

When I start looking things up, sometimes I can’t stop. 🙂

So now, let’s think about water and what it does.

What do we use water for? Shout out an answer-

All good things. So we know it’s good for washing, drinking, irrigation, skiiing, snowboarding, fishing. So many things.

What I love about water is its flexibility.

In more ways than one, water adapts to our needs. It also is amazing in its ability to adapt to the environment it finds itself in….

How much better off would we be, if we could naturally take the temperature of the room around us, and, if it got to be uncomfortable, we could just change shape to suit us better? That’s what water does.

In fact, I think it’s what we do, too- if we don’t second guess ourselves- but more about that later.

Water is flexible. It moves over, around, under, through whatever gets in the way. It allows itself to be moved by the things it encounters- making music as it flows over rocks and boulders, whispering gently as it is stirred by the wind. Water, I imagine, is delighted by obstacles, because then it gets to find another way. That’s the first lesson I try to remember form water.

I have a small fountain in my therapy office. I use it to remind myself and my clients that we are mostly water-66-70% -depending on the person and the time of day. As such, we have a right to claim its flexibility. We have the possibility and responsibility to be moved by the obstacles we see in our path- and to respond with our true nature. Gracefully, and honestly and purposeful. Just like the water from the hose does when it’s thrown onto the lawn- it goes where it goes- according to its nature.

We sometimes have difficulty trusting our nature. We’ve sometimes come from spiritual or cultural traditions that have told us that our natures are to be overcome- that human nature is not godly or holy or noble or right. As such, sometimes, I believe we’ve lost something of the power of the voice of our true nature- the voice that knows what to do, where to go when we let go, when we just trust our nature to carry us forward.

How does water know where to go?

As a kid in a farming family, I remember being fascinated out with my grandfather as he flood irrigated the pastures. We used canvas dams and irrigation ditches….

I got pretty good at being able to tell where to place the dams so that it would water the pastures effectively. But there also was a lot of waiting. So I played in the water- I swam in the small creeks and noticed the plants that lived in the still waters, like cattails and arrowroot- and the water birch and cottonwoods that grew nearby. The red wing blackbird nests in the cattails, the fish and crayfish and insects and animals- and me. All brought together- all linked by water in some way or another. All following our nature- more or less.

One of the most amazing things about water, is that it changes according to its environment. If the temperature drops, it freezes, if it raises to a higher level it melts. Higher still, it evaporates. It knows how to adapt. I’m not suggesting that this is conscious process, but I think the lesson is clear.

Most of human suffering, I believe, is about not changing with the temperature of the environment. Much of the suffering I’ve encountered in others -and noticed in myself is about not recognizing that I’m not suited to the environment in my present form- and believing that I can’t change.

That I shouldn’t have to change.

Let THEM change. 🙂

Does it sound at all familiar?

It does to me- almost painfully.

But the lesson of water is about the infinite ability to change. To live in one form or another according to the temperature it finds itself in.

We can do that, too.

And we won’t lose anything by doing it- except maybe our suffering. And I want to distinguish between suffering and pain.

Pain is real. Pain is important. Pain tells us when something needs attention. Could you imagine life without pain? I wouldn’t want to. It’s a valuable tool.

But suffering is something else entirely. Suppose I kick you in the leg- would you feel pain? Hopefully. But when does the suffering begin?

Suffering begins when you start to think “Greg shouldn’t kick me like that- what a jerk! Wow- that really hurt, I can feel it throbbing now and I ought to just get up and kick him right back because I wasn’t doing anything and he just kicked me and…” you get the idea.

Suffering is about embellishing the present with past pain. 

It’s about losing the present moment in the “should’s”. My Dad always said “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself- it’s a waste. It’s better to say ‘Next time that happens, I’ll pay closer attention.’”

Smart man, my Dad.

If we let go of suffering, and just allow the pain to inform our true nature- then what happens? We may stop interpreting, may stop judging the truth or the justice of the pain and simply allow the experience to inform us.

Especially if we remember we are water. Verse 8 from the Tao Te Ching is one of my favorites:

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.

Just like water, we encounter resistance and move around it, over it, under it, through it- whatever is patiently allowed.

Pain is simply information- an obstacle, a barrier maybe. An opportunity to adjust our perceptions, change course and keep going.

Water always knows where it is going, because it trusts its nature. It is a reminder to me to trust my goodness and the goodness of all those around me.

Do you think you have a good sense about the importance of water to you now?

In the time it’s taken me to speak to you today, we have all exchanged water vapor in this room through the inhalation and exhalation of our breath. It’s inescapable. We’re all part of each other through water.

And I love that. When you gather next in this room, try and remember that.

When you have difficulty with the person across from you, remember that you are filled with them, and vice versa, simply by breathing.

Isn’t that wonderful? It’s hard to be angry in the face of wonder. Or sad, or ashamed or afraid for that matter.

I believe that the greatest lesson water gives us is wonder. It is the gift of seeing ourselves in the breath of another.

It is about being haunted- by an inspiring spirit that teaches us to be flexible, to trust that we know where we’re going and that we can change if need be.

So for a moment, I’d like to just offer you a brief meditation….

We are water. We are fluid.

We are mighty, we are rough;

we are gentle, we give life;

We are vapor, we are ice, we are snow.

We are the glaciers carve mountains, the springs that provide cool relief.

We make thunder and lightning

and rainbows and oceans.

We are perfectly adaptable, infinitely flexible and amazingly resilient.

We are grace.

(Audio is here: http://uufbozeman.org/audio/2_3_13_Smith.mp3 )